On Val Lewton And CAT PEOPLE, Kolchak, HALLOWEENTOWN, And More
In this Issue:
- Horror History: On Val Lewton And Cat People
- Image of the Week: Let Them Fight
- Tiny Bites – This Week’s Best Horror Headlines
- Things We Love: Time To Crank “BFG Division”
- Hey, That’s Us! – Shudder in the News
On Val Lewton And Cat People
By Alice Collins
Val Lewton was one of the most influential producers/writers in horror yet he seems to be nearly forgotten in modern discourse. He has over time become known as one of the forefathers of the modern B movie after heading the Horror Unit at RKO Radio Pictures. With 11 features released during his four years, Lewton pumped them out cheap and fast, Roger Corman-style. The highly successful business model of forcing creativity with a studio-mandated low budget amounted to larger returns. This model mirrors that of most popular films in the horror genre today, such as Halloween, The Purge, and Get Out.
His first flick for RKO was Cat People; it was based on a short story that Lewton wrote called The Bagheeta. It involves a woman who believes she is a descendant of a tribe of Cat People that turn into Panthers when aroused. In 1942 dollars, it had a budget of $132,000 and saw a return between $2-4 million. Adjusting for inflation, it had a similar budget and return to 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street.
I was first introduced to Cat People at an indie video rental store, where I would always peruse the horror section. Seeing the different, almost gothic pulp novel-inspired cover made it stand out among the others and I had to see it. I found the movie to be a dark, unsettling piece that used deep shadows, contrast, and facial expressions to deliver chills. It was so different to the special effects-laden Universal Monster movies and ‘80s horror I was used to.
This film also introduced the world to a very popular and controversial technique used in many horror films: the “Lewton Bus.” It starts out with rising tension and then it calms down right before shocking you with a jump scare. So if you really hate jump scares, now you know who to blame!
Over the years, as I’ve rewatched the film and discussed it with other people, I’ve noticed a queer subtext. You have a person afraid of turning into something they are terrified of by becoming aroused. Society doesn’t exactly encourage queer people to come out and be themselves without shame, so a lot of self-hatred hurdles exist for many queer people to overcome. I remember a friend remarking to me how when they were first learning about themselves that they wished they could just be straight and were terrified to the point of panic attacks just at the thought of being out.
The next four years had Lewton put out film after film to varying degrees of success. One of them, released a year after Cat People, The Leopard Man is widely regarded as one of the first depictions of a serial killer in American cinema. Towards the end of his tenure at RKO, Lewton was responsible for Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi’s last film appearance together with The Body Snatcher.
Val Lewton’s filmography is a plethora of firsts for B Horror, each and every one an important piece of the puzzle that we call the horror genre. He was one of a kind and there will probably never be another like him, especially one with such raw creativity and trailblazing attitude whose work remains relevant nearly a century after release.
IMAGE OF THE WEEK
Let Them Fight
Godzilla vs Kong may be stomping across theaters and streaming but it all started with the 1954 original Gojira. Here are stars Akira Takarada and Momoko Kôchi playing with models on the set.
KOLCHAK, HALLOWEENTOWN, AND MORE
Texas Monthly’s Stephen Graham Jones gets personal with Conan the Barbarian.
The Guardian looks back at the supernatural crime thriller series Kolchak: The Night Stalker.
This article dives deep into The Weeknd and the horror journey his last several music videos have gone through.
Looking to get into some horror podcasts? Here’s a dive into a few that might be the spine-tingler you’re seeking.
Have you seen Turkey’s answer to The Exorcist? What about Italy’s take on Alien? Looper has you covered with a list of foreign horror knock-offs.
This one’s NSFW: photographer Rick Jones was interviewed about his book Horrify Me. He goes into the nitty gritty of his photography equipment, techniques, and love of horror.
If you’re looking to get into the world of horror anime, Urban Matter has 7 titles you should check out.
The world’s tallest supermodel cosplayed as Lady Dimitrescu from Resident Evil: Village.
Certified Forgotten remembers (see what I did there?) the Disney made-for-TV film Halloweentown.
1944’s Lady in the Death House gets a revisit from the folks over at Daily Dead.
Is Alien horror or sci-fi? That’s what someone asked on Twitter, sparking a healthy debate.
THINGS WE LOVE
Time To Crank “BFG Division”
For all the Doom fans out there, Limited Run Games will be releasing the first three games of the series on physical discs in various editions. Get your copy here.